WLA Syllabus Exchange Now Online

Happy Memorial Day, colleagues in the Western Literature Association,

On behalf of the WLA Executive Council, we are pleased to unveil the online WLA Syllabus Exchange:


The syllabus exchange is linked to the WLA website as one of the drop-down menu items from “The Association (WLA).”

Many thanks to those who contributed syllabi to this project. This valuable teaching resource couldn’t have happened without you. The site is a gold mine of information, with well over 100 syllabi and a fascinating range of courses. Some syllabi include extensive bibliographies. So please take a few minutes to explore the site and investigate some of the syllabus links.

We welcome your suggestions for improvement. Is there a course you’d like to see that’s not there? Do you know of someone with a good syllabus that we might request? Is there some way that the site could be more user friendly or more useful? We plan to update the syllabus exchange about every six months, so please continue to submit syllabi and spread the word.

Finally, we thought it fitting to officially launch the WLA Syllabus Exchange on Memorial Day to honor and remember Sue Rosowski, long-time WLA member and beloved teacher-mentor extraordinaire.

Happy teaching!,

Cheryll Glotfelty, editor

Matt Lavin, assistant editor

Send comments and syllabi to: wlasyllabi@gmail.com


Representing at the ALA

Several Western Literature Association members were present at the American Literature Association conference in Boston this weekend. The WLA sponsored two panels, one on the topic of “Home and Nation in the African American West,” with presenters Eric Gardner (“A [Black] Visitor from California’: Philip Bell’s ‘Notes’ from the Pacific Northwest”), Michael Johnson (“Performing Home in the African American West: Minstrel Shows, Brass Bands, and the Beginnings of the Blues”), and Emily Lutenski (“Not Home to Harlem: African American Women’s Writing in the 1920s West”).

The second panel was on the topic of “Western Institutions,” with presenters Nicole Tonkovich (“Big Loving Sister Wives in Nineteenth-Century Sentimental Fiction”), Victoria Lamont (“Women Writers and Western Authenticity”), Seth Horton (“Border Health Institutes During the Mexican Revolution”), and Gioia Woods (“Lawrence Ferlinghtetti, City Lights Bookstore, and the Paperback Revolution”).

Susan Kollin was also spotted among the conference goers (presenting on “Back to Nature and Other Bad Trips in T. C. Boyle’s Drop City”) on a panel on contemporary literature. And Matthew Lavin (“A Confluence of National and Literary Interests: Willa Cather, McClure’s Magazine, and The Autobiography of S. S. McClure“) was on a panel on “American Periodicals and Literary Genres.”

Norwegian Western?

Western TV (CFP)

The American West on Television

Western Literature Association Conference, Missoula, Montana, October 5-8, 2011

Although the golden age of the television western has long since passed, we have seen in the 21st century a remarkable rebirth of the portrayal of the West on television: in reality shows (such as MTV’s The Real World, set most recently in Hollywood), in series that reinvent and revise the classic western (such as Deadwood), and in series that make extensive use of western settings and locations (such as the original C. S. I.). For this panel topic, we are interested in original work investigating the depiction of the West in contemporary television. Papers might be focused on readings of individual episodes, comprehensive discussions of an entire series, or comprehensive discussions of a particular element of the television West that touches on several series. I hope to assemble one or two panels on the topic, depending on the number and quality of submissions.

Some possible topics might include (but are not limited to):

Televisions series taking place in contemporary (such as Big Love, Breaking Bad, The Killing, or Friday Night Lights) or historical (Deadwood, Carnivale) western settings

Television series that take western genre conventions and adapt them to a contemporary setting (such as Sons of Anarchy); or that relocate western conventions in other places (such as Justified) or to other frontier settings (such as the science fiction series Firefly)

Television series that center on “tough women” in the American West (such as In Plain Sight and Saving Grace); essays might also look at individual female characters who are part of a larger ensemble (such as in Sons of Anarchy and Breaking Bad)

Television series that depict the Canadian West (such as Little Mosque on the Praire, Heartland, or Vancouver-based series such as Da Vinci’s Inquest and Intelligence)

The West of Reality TV (such as Sarah Palin’s Alaska and Ice Road Truckers)

Television coverage of (and/or video responses to) the January 8, 2011, shootings in Tucson as visual narratives about the West

Please direct inquiries or submit a 250-word abstract to michael.johnson@maine.edu by May 30, 2011.

Participants on the panel (or panels) also will be invited to submit expanded papers to a special issue of Western American Literature on the theme of television and the American West.

In Plain Sight (New Season)

With the concluding episode of Justified having just aired, and Breaking Bad on hiatus until the end of the summer, I was starting to think that I might actually have to venture outside my house and away from the television set for awhile, given the lack of diverting western tv. Fortunately, I can now avoid the harmful rays of the sun for a little while longer, as Mary Shannon has come to the rescue.

Yes, Mary’s back, and Marshall, too, as In Plain Sight has just started its fourth season, with two episodes aired and more to come. When we last saw Mary, she was on a romantic getaway with detective Mike Faber. Apparently, this is not a romantic subplot that will get developed anytime soon, as Faber seems to have returned to his wife (which doesn’t seem to have left Mary too upset). So, as the season begins, there are no romantic rivals to disrupt Marshall and Mary’s partnership, and they are free to wisecrack, insult, and verbally poke at one another. Although, Marshall seems to be dating a police detective (Tess Yates, I think, is the character’s name), and she spends some time with the partners while tracking down a car theft ring.  But, really, Mary’s is at her insulting best with Marshall when she has an audience, especially when Marshall is on good behavior to make an impression on an attractive detective.

But it looks like the romance thus far is revolving around Brandi Shannon and her upcoming wedding. Mary Shannon: Maid of Honor?

Justified: End of Season Two

Both the title (“Bloody Harlan”) of the season concluding episode of Justified and the song that played over the end credits (“You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”) were very appropriate given what occurs in the episode. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, avoid reading any further, as it will be difficult to discuss the episode without revealing who leaves Harlan alive and who doesn’t.

One person who does leave Harlan alive is Raylan Givens, and he’s lucky to have made it out alive. In one instant, when he is tied up and hanging by his foot from a tree with a very very happy Dickie Bennett taking swings at him with a baseball bat, it’s Boyd Crowder who shows up to save Raylan—although not necessarily for Raylan’s sake. Earlier in the episode, in a raid on Boyd’s house, Dickie shoots Ava Crowder (demonstrating that he has a penchant for shooting women in their kitchens), and Boyd’s presence is not so much to rescue Raylan as to kill Dickie.

In the second moment, Doyle Bennett has the drop on Raylan, who is wounded and on the ground beside a car after an outburst of gunfire. Doyle makes a common mistake, in that he fails to take Tuco’s advice from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (“when it’s time to shoot–shoot, don’t talk”). “This bullet’s been on the way for 20 years,” Doyle says to Raylan, which turns out to be the last words Doyle speaks on this earth. It’s good to have skilled sharpshooters like Tim for friends. The marshal’s service arrives just in time, Tim takes out Doyle, and Art arrives with the rest of the marshals to secure the Bennett residence. Even though Raylan is in Harlan on his own “personal time” as Art tells Winona when she entreats him to help and he initially refuses, he changes his mind, and perhaps this is a step toward a reconciliation between Raylan and Art after a season that has seen the relationship between the two become increasingly strained and distant.

One of the most interesting parts of the episode involves the return of Loretta McCready to Harlan, as her story arc in the season is resolved by turning into a version of True Grit.  She bolts from her foster home, after stealing her foster father’s pistol, and, as Raylan rightly observes, “She’s likely going down to Harlan to avenge her daddy’s murder” (Raylan knows this because, he says, “that’s what I would have done when I was fifteen”). When the man she’s contracted to drive her to Harlan balks, Loretta responds, “I’ve come this far. I will see this thing through.”  Mattie Ross couldn’t have said it better.

When Mags Bennett tries to convince Loretta that she’s really too frightened of the gun to pull the trigger, Loretta proves otherwise and shoots Mags in the leg. If Tuco is right, and it’s better to shoot than talk when shooting needs to be done, Raylan knows that sometimes it’s time to talk, not shoot. Wounded himself, he convinces Loretta to put down the gun and saves her from murdering Mags. Loretta proves that she’s tough, but she escapes from the episode without becoming a killer.

Mags, however, does not leave Harlan alive. Somehow or another, Dickie is the only Bennett alive at the end of the episode. Mags takes herself out with a poisoned swig of her “apple pie” moonshine.

Unlike season one, which ended with a cliffhanger, season two resolves most of its primary plot lines in this episode. Raylan’s isolation from his colleagues at the Marshal’s service comes to an end, or, at least, they come to his rescue. The Bennett crime family dynasty has crumbled. We don’t know, however, whether or not Ava has survived the gunshot wound. And although Winona intercedes with Art on Raylan’s behalf, we don’t know if she’ll be waiting for him when he returns to Lexington. Even though Raylan was justified in his actions, which were taken to save Loretta, his willingness to put himself in danger while he is on leave and without backup is one of the reasons Winona divorced him in the first place. I guess we’ll see what happens in season three.

The Killing, through Day Six

I’m continuing to watch The Killing. The 12-part AMC series is at its midpoint, with the sixth episode (covering day six of the investigation into the death of Rosie Larsen) just airing this week. We still don’t know who killed Rosie, but the investigation has been centering on her teacher, Bennett Ahmed (and, as the episode concludes, suggestively pointing as well to Ahmed’s wife).

As I noted in an earlier post. the gray, cloudy, rainy Seattle and Pacific Northwest landscape of The Killing echoes the mood and tone of the original Danish series. As the series has progressed, the series continues to make use of that landscape (and cityscape), but it has focused more intently on the characters. As it has done so, we see the continuing effect of Rosie’s death on the multiple characters affected in various ways by that death: a candidate for mayor, the detectives investigating the crime, the “persons of interest” (aka suspects), and especially Rosie’s family.

What we see with Rosie’s family is a slow progressive implosion of each individual in that family. Emotionally constrained, unwilling or unable to face that grief, the characters tear themselves apart internally—an idea that is represented visually in the series by a shift from landscapes to indoor spaces.  One boy starts wetting the bed. Mitch Larsen, Rosie’s mother, re-enacts Rosie’s drowning in her bathtub. Stanley, Rosie’s father, falls apart in a convenient store bathroom, the only interior space anonymous enough for him to howl out his grief and rage—only to walk back out calmly to his truck as if nothing happened. That he does not reveal anything to Mitch, who is waiting in the truck for him, about his pain is pretty much indicative of where the two characters are. Terry Marek, who plays Mitch’s sister (I think that’s the relation), finally cracks in episode six, and we see her at the end of the episode drinking wine, smoking cigarettes, and listening to a Neko Case album (now there’s a combination of activities that clearly spells out very very depressed).

Again and again, we see the characters through windows, isolated by the frames, separated from each other and from the world around them by the panes of glass.

As watchers of westerns, we are, of course, familiar with emotionally constrained characters, with heroes who emphasize action over talk, and, with our detective protagonist,  Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos), we have another in long line of stoic western lawmen (or lawpersons). Sarah doesn’t talk much, either. However, it’s not so much that she goes by the western philosophy of “when it’s time to shoot, don’t talk—shoot.”  I’m not sure if we’ve even seen her draw her gun yet.  Sarah’s silence is thoughtful, and the actress is extremely good at conveying the sense of someone whose thought processes are carefully analyzing a scene and situation. And the series is impressively effective in enabling us to follow her train of thought without using voiceovers or much in the way of dialogue.

But Sarah’s thoughtful silence may be its own form of unhealthy emotional constraint. As her friend comments to her, at the age of fifteen, she “already had that learned to live alone look” on her face. Her dedication to solving the case prevents her from going to San Francisco to be with her fiancee, and keeps her at a distance from her teenage son. Sarah is a fascinating character, and the series hints that her dedication and competence might be read as obsession, that she too might be heading to that dark place that leads one to wine, cigarettes, and Neko Case.

We don’t see Sarah’s implosion as we do with some of the other characters, but it’s pretty clear from the dialogue that there’s something in Sarah’s past that makes her interest in Rosie’s death something more than just doing her job. But what that something might be is as interesting a mystery as the identity of Rosie Larsen’s killer.